By Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games
Some people love the untethered feeling of spontaneity. To them routines seem boring, uncreative and stifling. However, according to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, “Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.” Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the power of habit in our lives.
A habit is an acquired action or behavior that has become almost involuntary. According to Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, “Current research on creating new habits suggests that it takes an average of 21 days to create new habits. This goes for routine also. If you set and stick to a routine for three weeks, without change, there is a good chance that you will stick to the routine for a long time.” (https://drdanielleforshee.com/psychological-benefits-of-routines/) There are both good habits like brushing your teeth after meals, and bad habits like snacking at night. A routine is a series of habits. According to researchers at Tel Aviv University, positive habits and routines can add stability and predictability to one’s life - like an anchor. Especially in times of stress or change, habits can make us feel safe and more in control of our lives.
Routines also encourage efficiency. They reduce our need to plan and eliminate guesswork in our day. Furthermore, since many of our small decisions are made out of habit, we have more brain power to deal with the really pressing issues. “The reason 40% of our actions are driven by habit is that our minds love to conserve energy. The more you can automate the things you do each day, the more mental space and energy you have to commit to more important tasks.” (https://plan.io/blog/daily-routines/) Routines create structure and help us to prioritize our tasks throughout the day. This saves time, which some would argue is our most important resource!
However, habits and routines are truly effective only when they are tied to core values and long term goals. “Habits and routines drive you forward. More than anything, your habits and routines are what help you see progress and motivate you to do more.” Consulting.com reminds us that “What really holds people back is that they don't understand their core objective, and they are spending a large majority of their time executing tasks that do nothing to push them toward that objective.” A 4-step process can help us set clear, meaningful goals and then purposefully move towards achieving them. This framework is useful in many areas of life, including finances, relationships, health or personal development.
First, take some time to identify core goals and evaluate pitfalls that might stand in your way. “The first lesson of achievement is that you will never accidentally achieve a goal. If you want to accomplish something, you need a specific understanding of what it is you are seeking to accomplish.” Having a clear goal will help you to say “no” to distractions and “yes” to those tasks that move you toward your goal. It can also help to eliminate, condense or delegate less important tasks. Second, prioritize your goals and begin working towards them one at a time. John Berardi, author of The Metabolism Advantage, reminds us that if you focus on one goal, you're 85% likely to achieve it. If you focus on two goals, you're 35% likely to achieve them. Next, make a realistic plan. Take “baby steps” so that you don’t become overwhelmed and give up. Start slow then build momentum. “Set easy goals at the start, using the satisfaction and sense of achievement you get from completing them to power you through to the next, harder target... and the next... and the next.” Finally, keep track of your progress. Noting success, even if it’s small, is motivating. Use schedules, tools and accountability to move you forward remembering that “It's one thing to have a goal. It's another thing to pursue that goal. But if you truly want to achieve something, you absolutely have to measure and track your progress.” (https://www.consulting.com/how-to-be-more-productive )
Once you have a clear, meaningful goal in mind, use it to prioritize tasks and organize your time, even down to the daily to do list. Effective to do lists are not just random lists of tasks that need to be done. They should help you to prioritize, delegate or eliminate tasks, especially those that do not connect to your overall goal. According to Art Markman, author and professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, a well-written list can “...make room for the things you care about even if the things you care about seem too big to put on a simple to do list. The list is actually a way of planning, so make sure there are parts of the big things that you want to accomplish on the list, just break them down into manageable steps.” (https://www.fastcompany.com/user/art-markman)
There is some controversy about how to prioritize your daily tasks. Some argue that you should start with the most important and most difficult tasks. This ensures that they receive the time and focus needed to see them through. Others suggest that you should ease into your day - start with something quick and easy to build momentum. Track your progress on the small things. Build your confidence, and then you’ll be ready to tackle the bigger items on the list. Either way, hopefully you will begin today to build habits and routines that will free up time for your most important decisions. Then, evaluate and set clear goals. Make sure they are focused on the things that are important to you, and purposefully use them to guide your day-to-day planning.
Here are 3 of my favorite ideas for prioritizing tasks:
The Ivy Lee Method: https://jamesclear.com/ivy-lee
At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
Repeat this process every working day.
The ABCDE Method: https://www.briantracy.com/
Go through your list and designate each task with a letter A to E:
- A = most important, serious consequences if these aren’t done
- B = important, minor consequences if not completed
- C = nice to do, but not as important as A or B
- D = delegate these tasks to someone else
- E = eliminate these whenever possible to free up time for important tasks
The Eisenhower Matrix: https://blog.rescuetime.com/how-to-prioritize#eisenhower-matrix
Finally, to help kick start the habit forming, goal setting process, here is a list of 9 habits noted by Tom Corley, an accountant, financial planner and author of Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. He collected information about over 200 wealthy individuals, mostly self-made millionaires, on their daily habits. Maybe there are some that you could incorporate into your life to move you in a more productive direction:
- Get up Early
- Read Regularly
- Set Aside Time Each Day for Quiet, Reflective Thinking
- Make Exercise a Priority
- Spend Time With People Who Inspire You
- Pursue Your Own Goals
- Get Enough Sleep
- Diversify Your Income
- Avoid Wasting Time